2 am in the Cat’s Pajamas

9780804140256_p0_v2_s192x300Why did it take me so long to read this book?  Seriously, I had heard so many good things about this book and now that I’m finally done I’m wondering what took me so long to finally read it!  I really enjoyed it – and if you haven’t read it, and wanted to, do it!

This is the story of a little girl who has lost her Mom, and her life afterwards. Specifically, the story chronicles about 72 hours, beginning the day before Christmas Eve. It just so happens to be a few days before her birthday, and this day, these hours, are quite eventful. The story begins at school, she attends a Catholic school, that has quite strict rules. The stories seem so familiar, and make it seem that Catholic schools and their students haven’t changed a bit. I loved the beginning of the story – there was one part where I laughed so hard out loud my cat looked at me like I was crazy.

Madeline is 9 years old, and is in the middle of a crisis. Her mother has just passed, her father is still recovering from that loss – and it’s her who seems to be carrying them along.  Right before Christmas break she is expelled from school. Though she is a student in a private Catholic school, she doesn’t fit in with the other girls. They are cruel, despite the loss of her mother. All she wants is to fit in, for them to like her, but mostly to sing.

The details of the story seem somewhat ambiguous – when and where it was taking place. I really felt like it could have been any time in the past 40 years (especially with the Catholic school tales).  Until the very last part of the book I wondered whether or not it was Philadelphia or Chicago. Only in the last part of the book when the El is mentioned did I know for sure.

The name of the story comes from a jazz club in the city. Before the story starts, Madeline has never heard of the club. After her mother’s cdeath she has been unable to talk to her father – about her mother, or anything else. He is numb, so her care falls to others. It is a neighbor who tells her about the club. Her mother had been a dancer, and had once been a snake handler there. She is intrigued to say the least, and it becomes her mission to find this club.

I loved the story, and I really loved the ending.  No spoilers, but I was waiting the whole story for this to happen.  And it did.As a reader, it was a satisfying ending.  It happens at 2 am, in the club called the Cat’s Pajamas.  Despite Madeline’s loss, there is beauty in this story.  If this book has been on your TBR list, like it was on mine, get to it!

The Return of the Americans

There are very few shows I watch on TV.  A few of my favorites have recently ended their run.  I am still so sad about the end of Downton Abbey.  One show that I’ve watched and enjoyed recently is Mercy Street, which will just have to take the place of my favorite PBS show.  One show that my husband and I both like to watch is The Americans.  If you’ve never watched, first of all you should because it’s really good, it focuses on a couple living in the DC suburbs in the 80s.  They seem like the perfect couple, a beautiful home, 2 kids, they own their own travel agency, yet this is just their cover.  They are actually Russian spies posing as husband and wife, living deep under cover for years.  No one, not even their own children, has any idea who they really are.

9780451476807_p0_v2_s192x300I’m excited about the return of The Americans, season 4.   Season 3’s finale was a bit disappointing, it ended with no real conclusion, and nothing to look forward to for the following season.  I’m still watching  though – I’m giving it another chance!  I love a good spy story, and their lives in the 1980s seem so familiar, and it’ll be interesting to see how the late 80s, and the impending fall of the Soviet Union, will be handled on the show.

In honor of the return of the show, I’m sharing some of my favorite spy novels.  Phillip and Elizabeth are some of my favorite spies (and definitely the best looking!).  But the spies that Ken Follett and John le Carre created are some of the best!

9780143120933_p0_v1_s192x300The Key to Rebecca – Ken Follett

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carre

Eye of the Needle – Ken Follett

Mission to Paris – Alan Furst

The Bourne Identity – Robert Ludlum

Have you watched the Americans?  A fan of spy novels?  What are your favorites?

New Fiction Friday: The Swans of Fifth Avenue

IMG_0523Truman Capote is one of the most infamous writers of the 20th century. He was incredibly talented, but before reading this book, I didn’t know that much about him.  The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin, focuses on his life during the 60s and 70s, and his relationship with several very wealthy women of New York City’s society.  He became very close to one woman in particular, the richest of them all.  With all of the secrets and stories collected after years of friendship, he wrote some of his most sensational stories.

9780345528698_p0_v3_s192x300The story of Capote and these women sounded familiar, and I was intrigued by the story of these socialites ultimately being betrayed by someone they thought was a friend. It reminded me so much of the NYC that was portrayed in Mad Men, and I loved that part of the story.  Yet the more I read, I was reminded of a Vanity Fair article that was published in 2012, about this same story. I’m not sure if Melanie Benjaim was inspired by the true story – or by this story that was written for the magazine. Either way, I actually preferred the article to her story.

His proclaimed best friend (who he would eventually backstab in the worst, most public way) was Babe Paley, whose husband was the head of CBS. They were incredibly wealthy – and probably the most notable couple in NYC at the time. She was beautiful, accomplished (but only as a socialite), cultured, and admired. He got close to her and her friends, almost taking residence on 5th Avenue with them. Listening to their stories, their secrets, working them into his story that was featured in Esquire magazine.  Described as social suicide, Answered Prayers, exploited their trust, and exposed their scandalous personal lives to the world.

The first article that was meant to be the first installment of Answered Prayers, which would eventually be published as a complete novel.  It was called “La Cote Basque”, and first appeared in the magazine in June of 1975. The book was never complete, but this one article was probably more scandalous and more widely read than anything he had previously written. It was juicy, and full of ture stories that were disastrous to those who were mentioned.  Though there names were changed in the story, these women recognized themselves in his writing.

I really didn’t know that much about Capote before reading the book, other than what I had learned in the Vanity Fair story. I remember watching Capote a few years ago, but that only focuses on his work on In Cold Blood.  So basically what I know about him his through Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This book gives a little insight into Capote, enough insight to know that I probably would have wanted to read his books, but wouldn’t have wanted him as a friend.

Spring Preview

unnamedI am so ready for Spring!  We’ve had an early Spring here, but this past weekend was very cold and dreary for the first real weekend of Spring.  I’m looking forward to Easter this year.  My husband missed two Easters in a row (and countless other things…).  I’m also looking forward to warmer weather, working in the garden, and reading some new books.  These are just a few of the books I hope to be reading this Spring!

At the End of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier

Every Exquisite Thing – Matthew Quick

Glory Over Everything – Kathleen Grissom

Incite – James Frey

Flawed – Cecelia Ahern

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Franklin D. Roosevelt: The War Years – Roger Daniels

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld

Everybody’s Fool – Richard Russo

Love, Loss, and What We Ate – Padma Lakshmi

What are you looking forward to this Spring?  Any new books you’re waiting to get your hands on??

 

Celebrate National Reading Month

IMG_0609March is Women’s History Month, which is worth noting, but it is also National Reading Month.  It’s a monthlong celebration of reading, books, libraries and bookstores.  It’s an encouragement to get kids to read more – but it doesn’t have to end there!  It’s also meant to increase literacy, and to increase access to books, and education.  It is celebrated in association with Dr. Suess’s bday – which was on March 2nd.  Hosted and promoted by the National Educational Association, it has hosted and inspired reading events all over the country.

How can you celebrate?  Pick up a book!  It’s not just for kids, but it’s often the focus of literacy programs and promotions.  Want to learn more, visit the NEA’s website.

A while back, we shared a short list of how to get kids to read more.  Here, it rained almost the entire weekend, so we spent the afternoon at the library yesterday.  Rainy days are perfect for picking up a good book!

Women’s History Month: Our First Ladies

51EjnNBNAwL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The recent passing of Nancy Regan marked the end of an important period of women’s history. Although Nancy’s role wasn’t quite as important as her husband’s, it is worth noting.  First ladies, especially those of the 20th century, took on campaigns of their own.  In honor of her passing, and of women’s history month, we’re sharing a list of biographies written about some of the most influential first ladies.  Maybe one day soon there will finally be a Madam President, and a first gentleman!

Nancy Reagan – My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan In my childhood, Mrs. Reagan was very influential.  The 1980s were a turbulent time, and she had a strong anti-drug message.  Every elementary school student in the country (including me) was told to Just Say No!  It was a simple, but powerful message, one that is still important today.  Her 51JM2iwLS-L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_husband’s political career began in their home state of California, and he served through the Vietnam Era, and during the Cold War.  She remained devoted to him throughout his career – and after he left office.

Abigail Adams – Abigail Adams: A Life  This is an interesting book that highlights the life and role as first lady of Abigail Adams, using historical documents.  I really enjoyed reading this book – and have used it in the classroom.  It gives insight to the presidency of John Adams, which compliments the more notable, John Adams, by David McCulloch.  Although women at the time weren’t allowed to vote, Mrs. Adams had a significant influence on her husband’s career and urged him to always consider the rights of women.

Eleanor Roosevelt – You Learn by Living Mrs. Roosevelt is probably my favorite first lady.  Her husband served longer than any other president in history, so her role as first lady was significant.  She lived in the White House during a very 41KnIyMVOiL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_difficult time period – serving both through the Great Depression, and WWII.  Here in this book she shares 11 tips for living a more fulfilling life (and that’s actually part of the book’s subtitle).  She talks about learning, maturing, inspiring others, and being inspired.  Though she was once probably the most influential woman in the world, she remained humble.

Laura Bush – Spoken From the Heart  I never voted for her husband, but I really admire and respect Laura Bush.  This book was written just after her exit from the White House, and focuses on her personal life.  From her early childhood in Texas, to Southern Methodist University, to her first meeting of her husband.  Her mission as the first lady was to promote children’s literacy, something that I am very passionate about.  She talks about that, and some of the other things that happened during her husband’s presidency.

51UZP+kdxBL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_Mamie Doud Eisenhower – The General’s First Lady Mrs. Eisenhower is not someone I ever studied in college (and my major was history!), and I honestly didn’t know that much about her husband before my first teaching job.  Before entering into the White House, she was a military spouse.  Eisenhower was responsible for commanding troops in the Pacific during WWII., and was largely responsible for the planning of the D-Day invasion.  The book was written by Marilyn Irvin Holt, who has written several books on women’s history.  She paints Mamie as a devoted wife, committed to her husband and his career, and also credits her with furthering his career.

One day I hope Women’s History Month will celebrate the first female president.  Maybe it won’t be Hillary Clinton, but I hope that it will be someone.  Someone to respect, admire, and someone my daughter can look up to.

 

Women’s History Month: Elizabeth Warren

9781250062253_p0_v3_s192x300In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m reposting a review we shared on A Fighting Chance, written by Elizabeth Warren.  I really loved the book and what she had to say about the state of our country, and the state of our economy.  Especially with the upcoming presidential election, she is someone to notice.  She is certainly no candidate, but perhaps could be chosen as VP for the Democratic Party.

Before reading this book I didn’t know much about her, and in this past week I’ve asked my students who she is and I got a bunch of blank stares. I honestly don’t even know what drew me to this book, other than I knew she might be someone who throws her hat into the ring in the 2016. It’s is part memoir, but it also describes her law and political career. She is relatively new to the world of politics, (compared to other congressmen and women who have served for years), having only started serving in the Senate in 2012. However, she was a law professor for many years, and became involved in TARP (the Treasury Asset Relief Program), beginning with Senator Ted Kennedy, who originally held the Senate seat that she’s currently serving in (along with his brother).

She’s currently serving the state of Massachusetts, where she had worked at Harvard as a law professor. Her beginnings were much more humble. She was born in Oklahoma, to a working class family. As a woman she faced unique challenges in her career. Her mother actually encouraged her not to focus too much on college, and to instead focus on finding a good husband. It was after her daughter was born that she decided to go to law school, her mother discouraged that too. Her father worked as a janitor, and her mother worked in a bank – which gives insight into who she is as an individual.  It also kind of explains why she became involved with bankruptcy law.

This became the focus of her career, and one of the main reasons she became involved in politics. Another project she became involved with is the income gap. It’s something she worked on with her daughter, who was interested in statistics. What they concluded was that the income gap between the richest Americans and the working class is growing harder.  It has become one of the focuses of her political career. One of the reasons that I loved this book w as that it made me think about … It just made so much sense.

I know that the average American won’t pick up this book – but the average American should be interested in the work that she’s doing. One important question she poses is why there are so many government agencies and policies governing products and none for banking. If consumers are protected from bad consumer products, food, etc. – then what about loans and the terms of loans?? If this isn’t her attempt to run for president in 2016, maybe it should be.  In running for the Senate, she ran against Scott Brown, who won the Senate seat after Ted Kennedy’s death. I think people were shocked when a Republican newcomer won this long-heald Democratic position. She gives an intamite account of the campaign trail and it was somewhat shocking. Whatever your position on Super Pacs are, for or against, I learned they have much more power than I ever knew. They were allowed to run campaign ads, without giving money directly to candidates, or declaring their identities, or their backers.  I loved this book, and loved getting to know her better.  She’s one of the few politicians in Washington whose political career seems untarnished.